TACT campaigns for improvements to policy affecting children in care across the UK. We work with politicians, civil servants and other stakeholders using our expertise and experience as a service provider to argue for positive change.
A general election provides a good opportunity to set out what we believe should be the priorities for the incoming government. Our Call to Action identifies seven key areas for change. We have spoken to social workers, foster carers, adoptive parents and, most importantly, young people in care and care leavers to ask them how they believe the care system could improve. The Call to Action gives an outline of the main issues in each area, explains the impact and identifies the key actions we believe need to be taken.
As our key priority we have identified the needs of adolescents entering the care system as our headline issue. This is because time and time again our experience tells us that those who enter care for the first time when older are particularly vulnerable to risk, negative experiences and poor outcomes in care. As well as being TACT’s lead area for action, it also cuts across many of the other areas we cover.
The areas covered in the Call to Action are:
The Call to Action is a template for TACT’s policy and research work over the next few years. It sets out the framework for development of a system that will offer the best chances in life to all those entering care.
Here at The Foster Care Co-operative in Wales, we’re very excited to announce that this year’s annual “SEE ME” art exhibition is being held in The Oriel Gallery in the prestigious building, The Senedd, in Cardiff Bay; between Monday 11th May and Friday 15th May.
The exhibition will feature artwork from both our looked after and birth children from around Wales. The idea behind the yearly event is to give the young people cared for by The Foster Care Co-operative an opportunity to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences of the care system in Wales. Some of the pictures will be accompanied by narratives explaining the at times moving thoughts and memories behind the piece.
The event is sponsored by Jane Hutt AM, who will also open the exhibition at the exclusive launch event on Monday 11th May 2015, at 10am. Alongside her will be other keynote speakers include Karl Davies, Chief Adviser Wales at the BBC Trust, plus our fantastic foster carers and some of the older teenagers who are having their work displayed. If you would like to join us at the event, claim your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/see-me-childrens-art-exhibition-tickets-16629277617
Executive Director, Ian Brazier, for The Foster Care Co-operative says, “The project is something to be celebrated, for all the children and the staff who have been involved. The children who are based throughout Wales have spent a lot of time and creativity working towards this, and it has allowed them to acknowledge their feelings and allows them to express themselves. The work that has been produced is fantastic, and I’m glad that they are able to display it in a fantastic venue in the heart of Cardiff.”
Local artist Prith Biant from The Creative Thinking Company (http://thecreativethinkingcompany.co.uk), who will also talk at the launch event, worked with the foster carers and the looked after children during the Easter break to create the artwork. The workshops included; ‘Paint each other!’ which gave both the foster carer and young person an opportunity to create portraits of each other. The second was based around the theme ‘What makes you come alive?’ Working with the children to understand what makes them feel good, whether it be sports or a trip to the beach.
Children in foster care are surrounded by negative stigmas. The exhibition project has always been about wanting to show that some of the myths about foster care are not only false but they are also harmful to the youth in foster care and can greatly hurt their confidence. Often due to an irregular or unstable background, they require a little more attention, encouragement and support, and most of them just need stability and someone to give them a chance.
Katrina Rohman, Marketing & Strategy Officer, for The Foster Care Co-operative in Wales said, “It was heart-warming to be involved with the art workshops, working alongside the very talented artist, Prith Biant. One moment in particular stands out to me; a thoroughly shy 7-year-old, Jacob, did not want to get involved and spent most of the workshop watching his sister paint. However Carlton aged 17, who is currently studying child care in college, went out of his way to support Jacob. With his efforts, at the end of the day Jacob had produced a few fantastic pieces of art, including one of his foster carer Mandy, and was engaging with others within the room. It is fantastic to see first-hand how creativity can improve a child’s communication and social skills.” (Jacob's picture is featured above)
The exhibition will run between Monday 11th May and Friday 15th May in The Oriel Gallery in The Senedd in Cardiff Bay. It is a free event, open to the public.
St Christopher's is recruiting for the best Children's Home Managers and Deputy Managers in the country for two new services in London.
Following funding from the Department for Education, we are setting up two Safe Steps children's homes in Ealing and Islington to address child sexual exploitation. We need two Home Managers and four Deputy Managers who can deal effectively with challenging situations, motivate young women at risk and support the rest of the team.
This is a rare and exciting opportunity for professionals looking to develop their career and build upon their solid experience in residential childcare.
If you want to help young people build brighter futures, find out more and apply on our website.
Industry News: Dickensian Tory cuts tearing kids away from parents.. condemning next generation of Scots to a life in care
THE Daily Record has been told by a senior council official that the Tory assault on the poor has plunged parents into despair, debt and mental illness.
CRUEL Con-Dem benefit cuts are separating children from their parents in Scotland.
A senior council official yesterday told the Daily Record how David Cameron’s assault on our poorest families is plunging desperate mums and dads into despair and mental illness – and forcing their children into care.
It’s a Dickensian nightmare, and a grim indictment of five years of rule by the Tories and their Liberal Democrat allies.
Stephen Brown, Head of Children, Families and Criminal Justice Services at North Ayrshire Council , told us: “Welfare reform cuts are having an impact on parental mental health and impacting on some people’s ability to care for their children.
“The impact of welfare reforms has tipped some of them over the edge.”
Councils also warned yesterday that there are not enough foster places to cope with the crisis, partly because potential foster families are themselves struggling to make ends meet.
And as a result, kids as young as SEVEN are having to be placed in children’s homes.
Earlier, Stephen told Holyrood’s Welfare Reform Committee that the growing number of children needing help had “increased the pressures on our fostering service”.
He admitted that children of seven or eight had been placed in children’s homes because of a shortage of foster parents – a situation he described as “unfortunate” and “far from ideal”.
And the crisis is far from confined to Ayrshire.
Richard Gass of Glasgow City Council told the committee they tried constantly to recruit foster parents, but added: “Perhaps the economic climate is a barrier to folk coming forward.”
Alistair Gaw, vice-president of Social Work Scotland, described the situation in Edinburgh. He said there were 1000 children in foster homes, children’s homes or living with relatives in the capital alone.
Alistair said finding enough foster parents was a constant struggle, and family members caring for children separated from their parents were also feeling the impact of the benefit cuts.
Sara Lurie, director of the Fostering Network in Scotland, told the Record Scotland was short of 750 foster care places.
She added: “There is a year-on-year increase in the number of children finding themselves in care. There are many factors behind that. Financial pressure is one.”
Child poverty is on the rise in Scotland under the Con-Dems. The proportion of kids below the poverty line increased in 2013 from 19 per cent to 22 per cent.
Richard Farleigh, the investor and ex-“Dragon’s Den” panellist, was announced today as an official Ambassador of UK children’s charity Action for Children.
The role comes in recognition of his substantial support of the charity’s campaigns and fundraising activities.
Farleigh’s support of Action for Children’s work with vulnerable children and young people is motivated by being fostered himself as a child, after experiencing poverty, violence and neglect in the Australian outback.
His desire to encourage more people to consider fostering or adopting children led to his relationship with Action for Children, and his spearheading of the charity’s campaigns to help children in care.
Richard will be taking part in Action for Children’s million-pound fundraising event, Byte Night, this October by sleeping rough for the night in London and raising vital funds for the charity’s community-based services.
Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “We are delighted to welcome Richard as our new Ambassador.
“He has already done a great deal to support our work, dedicating his time to help thousands of children looking for a loving home.
“We look forward to working with him closely in the future and know that he will play an invaluable role.”
Richard Farleigh said: “I know from experience that the right support can transform a child’s life.
“Action for Children helps children and young people to reach their potential even if life has put barriers in their way.
“I am proud to become their newest Ambassador, and am excited to be involved in its essential work to give children and young people the support they need.”
Richard will be sleeping rough in London to raise money for Action for Children as part of the Byte Night event, the UK’s biggest sleepout taking place in eight cities this October.
Councils have experienced an increase in demand for fostering services as some parents face pressures from welfare reforms, a Holyrood committee has heard.
Children as young as seven are being placed in children's homes in one local authority due to a lack of available foster parents, MSPs on the Welfare Reform Committee were told.
Council officials were at the committee to discuss the impact of welfare reform on children's services.
Increased pressure on families as a result of benefits changes could result in more demands being placed on social care and health services, they told the committee.
Labour MSP Margaret McDougall asked about the effect on fostering services.
She said: "If there is this huge increase on the pressures on the parents, is that support there to help the children?"
Stephen Brown, of North Ayrshire Council, said: "We have certainly had an increase on the pressures on our fostering service as a result of an increased number of children being accommodated.
"We have had the unfortunate situation where we have had to house some children in some of our units at an earlier age than we would ordinarily like.
"So, some of our children's houses have accommodated children as young as seven or eight, which is far from ideal, because of an absence of appropriate foster placements."
Richard Gass, of Glasgow City Council, said the local authority was running a "continual campaign" to recruit foster parents.
He said economic circumstances may be preventing some people from signing up.
"Perhaps the economic climate is a barrier to folk coming forward," he added.
Alistair Gaw, vice president of Social Work Scotland, said that in Edinburgh alone there are 1,000 children in foster homes, children's homes and living with kinship carers.
"We continually struggle to find enough foster parents," he said.
"There is definitely a need for more foster carers in the country, there is no doubt about that."
Mr Gaw said there had been attempts to increase the number of children cared for by kinship carers - other family members, such as grandparents.
"I think one of the problems we have is that some of the impacts of the changes to the benefits system are actually having a negative impact on kinship carers," he added.
For the last seven years, FCC have been running an activity day – set up to give both foster children and birth children a fantastic fun filled day.
As in previous years, FCC Staff, foster carers and children descended on Malvern Outdoor Elements – an activity centre based at the northern end of the Malvern ridge – and a great day was had by all. Activities such as a climbing wall and zip wire were on offer – as well as some indoor arts and crafts activities – and children (and some adults) were keen to participate!
FCC prides itself on offering and encouraging a number of activities throughout the year aimed at foster carers and their children. Last year, children were given the opportunity to design FCC’s Christmas card and calendar. This year they have been hard at work suggesting content for FCC’s children’s website – fully reinforcing the FCC ethos of being a child focused organisation.
Fostering News: Fostering before the age of two helps children in institutional care deal better with stress
As human beings we are born helpless and entirely dependent on those who care for us. Most of us are lucky to have had parents or guardians who provided us with food, security and comfort. We form attachment experiences with these caregivers that create a way to develop our social skills and grow up with a sense of purpose and value in the social world.
But some children do not find themselves in the care of a family but rather in the care of an institution. There they are much more likely to experience a lack of responsive and sensitive care. We now know that growing up in such settings has a long-term negative impact on a child’s physical and mental health.
Important questions remain about how best to help children recover from the negative effects of being institutionalised. Research with rodents and non-human primates has provided some clues. These animal studies have demonstrated that early maternal deprivation has enduring effects on biological and behavioural responses to stress, such as the functioning of the hyperthalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a key physiological system that regulates stress hormone production.
It has also been shown that a typically high stress response of rodents who have been maternally deprived can be reversed by an enriched environment during puberty. However, because of the differences between animals and humans, it hasn’t been possible to generalise from animal studies to humans.
Turning down the stress levels
A new US study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examined the consequences of early life deprivation on children associated with growing up in an institution. The study, by scientists based at the University of Washington, also looked at the potential for a family caregiving environment to reverse the impact of such early adversity.
The children in the study were abandoned in Romania. They were randomly selected with 43 remaining in institutions in Bucharest and 48 placed in foster family care. These two groups of children were compared with each other and also with another group of 47 children who came from similar backgrounds, but had never been institutionalised.
The scientists measured the impact of these different rearing conditions on the development of the children’s “stress response system”. They did this by measuring the autonomic nervous system and the HPA axis. Because the institutionalised children were placed in foster care at different ages, it was possible to investigate the impact of timing on the development of their “stress response system”.
The researchers found that children who remained in institutional care exhibited significantly blunted biological response to psychosocial stress compared with children who were in foster care. In other words, their stress response systems responded less strongly to a socially challenging task. Overall, children in foster care generally resembled the typically developing children who had never been institutionalised.
These findings provide convincing evidence that the disruption to early caregiving among children who have experienced institutional care can have a negative impact on children’s response to stress later on. However, it is extremely encouraging that by placing children in the care of a foster family, the effects of such early institutionalisation on stress systems can be ameliorated. It will be important to show in future studies that there are also improvements in behaviour and emotional functioning.
The researchers also found that the therapeutic effects of the foster care were most evident in children who were fostered before they reached 24 months. They fared much better. For example, the reactivity of the stress hormone, cortisol, was significantly associated with the age of being placed in foster care: the earlier the foster placement the more normal the cortisol response to stress at the age of 12.
The authors have previously found that such timing effects have a similar impact on other domains, including attachment. Collectively, these findings lend weight to the notion that there are sensitive periods in human development when it comes to caregiving.
As with any study, there are a number of factors that need to be weighed up when considering the implications of the research. The random allocation of children to foster care or institutional care makes it more likely that both groups were as similar as possible. However, it is less clear why children in the fostered group were placed with families earlier or later. It’s possible the most difficult children who had experienced the most adversity were placed later. If so this would weaken a strong argument for a sensitive period.
A second issue to consider is that that stress response systems may reflect the current environmental demands of where a child is placed. We know that some of these children still remain in the institutions. It remains possible that stress responses could, at least in part, be “recalibrated” by foster care placement – even as these children are entering adolescence – given that this represents a period of particular neurobiological plasticity during which certain brain regions undergo a process of rewiring.
These findings have important implications for policy and practice for
Chief executive, Caroline Selkirk, sets out our response to the key general election manifesto pledges for looked after children from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in the blog below.
There were firm commitments from the Labour Party to increase support for children in kinship care, from the Conservative Party to draw up regional adoption agencies and from the Liberal Democrats to invest in training for foster carers. Below, I’ve set out our response to the key election manifesto pledges:
The Labour Party
We will increase support for children in kinship (family and friends) care and their families, a group too often overlooked and undervalued
We have been campaigning alongside the Family Rights Group to raise the profile of kinship care, and we’d like to see a commitment from all parties to support kinship care. We are delighted that the Labour Party has taken this first step.
Kinship care is currently the Cinderella care option- kinship carers are not eligible for the same support as adopters or foster carers, and they are also penalised by the benefits system. For example, many have fallen foul of the spare room subsidy and availability to work rules. As a result, it is crucial that any additional support for kinship carers should enable free access to legal and advice services.
The Conservative Party
We will introduce regional adoption agencies, working across local authority boundaries to match children with the best parents for them
Introducing regional adoption agencies would be a major change to the way in which adoption services are currently delivered. It is vital that any such reorganisation will focus on a child and their need for a family for life. We need to see greater clarity on these proposals.
At present there are nine Regional Adoption Boards reporting to the Adoption Leadership Board, who are focused on improving performance at a regional level. This is still a fairly new initiative and needs further time to become established.
We agree that there are benefits for children when local authorities work co-operatively, together with Voluntary Adoption Agencies in their region, to identify suitable matches for children in their care. There are already some well-established regional consortiums, where local authorities are developing new ways of working together and we would support further development of these models.
Continue to make it easier for children in care to find a loving home, through the national Adoption Register and the new national gateway for adoption, a first point of contact for potential adopters
Recent reforms to adoption have reduced delay in the time it takes for a child to be placed. However, for children from ethnic minority backgrounds, older children, those with a disability and sibling groups it is still a challenge to find the right match. The decision by the Liberal Democrats to maintain momentum on the current measures, like the Adoption Register, and the new national gateway for adoption, provide continuity and is welcome.
Tackle delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues
Providing better support and training for foster carers, and focussing on mental health issues will be essential to the development of foster care. A further step in the right direction would be a government commitment to driving forward best practice in the sector, ensuring increased support and funding of foster care, alongside the emphasis on support and training for both foster carers and social workers.
There are over 90,000 looked after children- that’s children in the care system in the UK. It is paramount that the next government provides appropriate support for these children and their carers. Any failure to do so risks condemning some of our countries’ most vulnerable children to an unstable and uncertain future.
Following meetings with all the major UK-wide political parties taking part in the upcoming general election, The Fostering Network is delighted that the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have chosen to make a commitment to fostering in their manifestos.
We took our message to all the main UK-wide political parties, meeting with Conservative MP and children’s minister Edward Timpson, as well as Prime Minister David Cameron’s policy advisor, Steve McCabe MP - Labour’s shadow children’s minister, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s special advisor, and representatives from the Green Party.
The Green Party said on page 28 of their manifesto: "do more for young people who have no family; a basic first step would be to pay foster carers a salary, costing about £0.9 billion a year."
The Liberal Democrats said on page 61 of their manifesto: “Tackle delay and instability in foster care, with better support and training for foster carers, including on mental health issues”
Vicki Swain, campaigns manager at The Fostering Network, said: “We are heartened that fostering has found a place in these two party manifestos. They set out a vision for the future and show where priorities lie. Foster carers provide children with stability, security, attachment, and often their first positive experience of family life, so a commitment to fostering is a commitment to supporting the vast majority of children in care, and the foster carers who devote their lives to giving them loving and supportive homes for as long as they need them.
“Fostering often provides a permanent home and family for a child so that they can live a settled life, develop as individuals, gain an education, and flourish as a contributing member of society when they reach independence.”
The Fostering Network has also published our own manifesto for the future of fostering. We would encourage you to familiarise yourself with it so that if any parliamentary candidates come to your home, you can discuss with them exactly what fostering means to you and the changes that could make fostering even better for all involved.
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